Waiting to ripen: Ripe’s musical journey to maturity
You wouldn’t expect your average band to wait almost seven years before releasing their debut album, but Ripe is no average band. I caught Robbie Wulfsohn, Ripe’s frontman, on a 20-hour drive from Coos Bay, Ore. to Boulder, Colo., and while dealing with spotty cell service and a lit gas light in the middle of nowhere, Wulfsohn never let worry get the better of him.
“I think we’re gonna make it,” Wulfsohn said. “I’m an optimist…but I think we’re gonna make it.”
And optimism is central to what Ripe and their first album, “Joy into the Wild Unknown,” is all about. Throughout Ripe’s lifetime, the band has been tackling the concept of joy and what it truly means to live a happy life.
“I think that the basic idea of what we’re dealing with throughout the record, and we try to tackle this from as many different angles as possible, both musically and lyrically, is the idea that there’s a misconception about joy,” Wulfsohn explained. “Even the language that we use to describe these emotions like joy, happiness, togetherness, connectivity—they’re all described as light emotions—and sadness, alienation, hate and frustration are all described as heavy emotions, almost as though one cannot compete with the other and that any of these lighter emotions are merely distractions from these ‘true, heavy emotions.’ I think that that just sets you up for a really terrible life if you don’t think that you can find a happiness that can actually battle with alienation.”
Wulfsohn continued, “So, I think that coming from a group of seven people who, because we’re close friends, because we’re chasing our respective dreams, because we’re bringing these community values and family values to the forefront of what we do…we just feel like we’re in a place to try and craft this idea of a heavier joy, something that while still rooted in these lighter emotions does have weight to it, that does have a sense of gravity to it.”
And over the years all this reflection has been boiled down into what “Joy into the Wild Unknown” became. Ripe’s 7-year journey together has been filled with this kind of heavier joy. So, why wait so long to release their first album?
“The conversations that we had whenever we were talking about our first album always centered around the idea that we wanted the first album to be a mission statement—that as long as we didn’t have a communicable answer to ‘who is Ripe?’ and ‘what is Ripe about?’ we didn’t want to push out a first album for the sake of having a first album. So, while we’ve had some of the songs for a while and while we did a couple of EP’s off the bat, it was always working towards the point where we could put out a worldview, both sonically and ideologically, that felt right and that felt like us. So, we decided to take a little bit longer with that first release.”
But now that Ripe has an LP in the books, that doesn’t mean that they’ve given up their dynamism. More than a definition, this album is a snapshot of where Ripe as an artistic expression is in its journey.
“I think that even in the time since recording and the time since releasing the record, the way forward has presented itself; and it feels both entirely indebted to the album that we’ve just released and also the logical next step. So, I think that the same way that you wouldn’t look at a high school yearbook and say, ‘that is entirely who I was,’ I think that it’s very, very much who we were at the time and it’s very, very much a part of us, but we continue to grow and change.”
And this ever-changing nature is central to who Ripe is. In fact, there are two Ripes—one live and one recorded. Wulfsohn recognizes that what makes a live performance good isn’t necessarily the same as what makes an album good. Not only that, but it’s important to realize that both play important roles in a band’s identity.
“We’re not trying to make these two things the same. We’re trying to make these two things as good as possible, as superlative as possible. So, when it comes time to record a song for an album setting, we’re not necessarily going to look at it the same way as when we’re trying to execute the song in a live setting. We want both things to be the best they can possibly be, and to us, part of that is acknowledging that they are in fact different.”
And Ripe hasn’t spent its duration only getting ready for their first album. They’ve been constantly growing and refining their live performances. Many of Ripe’s influences come from traditions of improvisation and the temporary notion of their live sets is what brings the excitement to the band.
“In terms of our live world, we may not be able to achieve the same kind of perfection because we only get one crack at bat, but we do feel that there’s an energy that can’t necessarily be contained in a studio recording that comes about when you’re making eye contact with an audience and the audience is watching the band and you wind up in that symbiotic relationship where the band feeds the audience and the audience feeds the band and all of a sudden the whole thing is elevated because it’s something that’s only possible [in] a live setting.”
And, in my opinion, Ripe’s energy is something that should be experienced live. Their energy can be felt throughout a venue, and while their album performance doesn’t exactly translate to their live feel, both are very worthy of a listen.
Ripe will be in St. Louis at the Atomic Cowboy on Sept. 11. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the show begins at 8 p.m.